Why Tom Hanks Always Plays So Many Real People in His Movies

Moviegoers clearly have an affinity for Tom Hanks. The two-time Oscar-winning actor has developed such an implicit trust with his fans that some of his most popular roles are as real people. Especially in recent years, Hanks has a tendency to bring the lives of historical figures to life on screen. But as it turns out, he has a good reason for why he’s more drawn to true stories.

Tom Hanks and Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger
Tom Hanks and Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger | Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Tom Hanks won 2 Oscars for playing fictional characters

Over the years, Hanks has played many real people. In Bridge of Spies, Catch Me If You Can, Apollo 13, Sully, Captain Phillips, The Post, and Charlie Wilson’s War, he brought harrowing true stories to life. And he even played entertainment icons Walt Disney and Fred Rogers in Saving Mr. Banks and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, respectively.

Ironically, Hanks won two Academy Awards for playing fictional characters. Oftentimes, the academy gravitates toward rewarding stars who embody a well-known historical figure. But in the case of Hanks’ back-to-back wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, the actor was recognized for creating his own characters. In fact, all but one of Hanks’ six Oscar nods are for playing fictional people.

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Why the actor often plays real-life people in his movies

As Hanks has gotten older, he’s leaned more on playing real-life people. Perhaps this has to do with the kinds of roles he feels equipped to play. As he told The New York Times, Hanks knows his limits. It’s why he rarely ever plays villains in movies. “I don’t instill fear in anybody,” he said. “Bad guys, by and large, require some degree of malevolence that I don’t think I can fake.”

Hanks admitted to having trouble connecting with villains who seek to harm and destroy. And as he explained to the Times, his production company, Playtone, focuses largely on nonfiction because of the relatable motivations inherent to true stories. Rather than spinning original yarns, Hanks prefers to tap into the real-life inspiration in the world and bring it to a wider audience.

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What movies will Tom Hanks be working on next?

Given Hanks’ interest in real-life stories, it perhaps shouldn’t surprise fans that he is about to play another real person. In the upcoming film Elvis, Hanks plays Colonel Tom Parker, longtime manager of Elvis Presley. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the musical drama stars Austin Butler as the title character and Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley. It’s currently scheduled for release on June 24, 2022.

After that, Hanks reunites with Robert Zemeckis — with whom he’s made Forrest Gump, Cast Away, and The Polar Express — for a new version of Disney’s Pinocchio. The live-action/computer-animated release will arrive on Disney+ in late 2022. Hanks plays Geppetto, the wood-carver whose desire for a son leads him to create the title character.